Posts Tagged ‘car vs. bike’

Air Pollution and Bicycling

Breathing behind the exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and SUVs is one of the worst parts of bike commuting. Although passengers in motor vehicles breathe in extra pollution from the toxic chemicals leaching off the car interior itself, a recent study found that bicyclists in Brussels breathe in 5 times more air pollution than drivers or pedestrians. On the other hand, I remember a study that declared bicyclists breathe in less air pollution, but I cannot find a link to it now. What I know for sure is my own experience and I feel like I breathe in a lot of pollution while cycling.

Air Pollution – Image (c) Tom Krymkowski

This subject is on my mind due to a recent experience. Yesterday morning a truck, similar to the one pictured above, passed me and belched out a horrific plume of thick, black smoke from the top. The plume was at least 5 times as big and thick as the picture above. I almost pulled off the road, but there was no escaping, so I ducked my body over my handlebars and held my breath until I made it through the other side. The truck continued hurtling from block to block, releasing a disgusting plume of smoke as it accelerated from each stop sign, before mercifully turning onto another street. Surely, this truck would never pass a city inspection, but nevertheless it was out there on the road, spewing its disgustingness around.

This incident, although rare, was troubling. I hate to think how much pollution I breathe in while cycling through the city. I often say that I love cycling because it’s a chance to get out in the “fresh air,” but I shouldn’t kid myself: the air is not so fresh in Chicago. That is a depressing fact.

I am not sure what to do or say about this problem. Complaining about trucks in general would be hypocritical, since they carry food to my grocery store, deliver my packages, sweep my streets and remove my garbage. Living in the Bike Lane wrote about this problem last year and offered some solutions for both individuals and cities.

What have your experiences with air pollution been? I’m especially interested to read the responses of the country mice versus the city mice.

Hopefully, air pollution will not progress to the point where bicyclists feel the need to don surgical masks, as they do in other countries.

{Image courtesy of Tom Krymkowski via Flickr}

Beautiful Bicycles: Yuba Mundo Cargo Bike

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently test rode a Yuba Mundo from J.C. Lind Bikes for 24 hours. Yuba is a utility bike company based in California and the Mundo can carry up to 450 pounds of cargo on the back while riding like a regular bike. As some of my co-workers noted today, this is the station wagon of bikes (as opposed to Oma, which they’ve called my Cadillac).

The bike is not super heavy for its size and is equipped with 21 gears on a derailleur system to help make any load do-able.

You change the gears by turning the grip shifters on the handlebars.

Fenders cover both wheels to help keep you clean and dry.  A spring above the front tire keeps the handlebars stabilized and prevents the bars and the wheel from flopping to the side.

This bike requires maintenance to keep the v-brakes, derailleur and huge exposed chain clean.  Not a big deal, but a factor that does not come into play with traditional Dutch and Danish cargo bikes. Note that the frame could be built up with disc brakes and internal gear hubs, but that would cost extra.

The frame is covered with braze-ons, like the water bottle ones below, to make attaching racks and other add-ons easy.  The top tube is unusually thick, which was annoying at first because my knees kept knocking against it as I pedaled.  But after a few minutes, I adjusted to carrying myself a bit differently and the bumping stopped.

The frame comes in only one size, but the bike is highly adjustable to allow multiple family members to ride it by changing the seat and handlebars.

The one thing that I would change is the step-over height, but maybe that’s a necessity of the design.  Mounting and dismounting in my skirt was inelegant, to say the least, and an easier step-over would be especially beneficial when hauling a load, I assume.

The riding position is pretty straight up, as you can see, although I moved the handlebars more upright to match my preference and the bars could be placed lower and further forward for a slightly more aerodynamic feel.

The main attraction, of course, is the long tail, which is rated to hold up to 450 pounds of cargo.  In addition to the rack itself, rails extend out below the rack to make hanging and strapping stuff along the side super easy.

If I owned the bike, I would permanently attach two saddlebags (those suckers are huge!), one on each side, and distribute bigger loads evenly between both sides.  I think it would be awesome to ride this bike around all the time, never having to worry about my ability to carry any load, while at the same time not feeling weighed down by a big cargo bike when not carrying anything.  This bike also has kid seats that clip onto the rear rack, so if you’re comfortable carrying kids on the back, it’s the most versatile kid/cargo carrier that I’ve test-ridden.

Since I borrowed the bike on the spur of the moment, I did not get to try it with a load.  I wanted to go grocery hauling or do something cool, but I really did not need groceries or to spend any more money.  I carried two bags and a heavy lock in the saddle bag, so there was some weight, but nothing monumental.  I know that greatly limits the helpfulness of this review – sorry about that.

I rode along the lakefront in a stiff headwind this morning, and while the bike was not speedy, it was not heavy like my Dutch bike would have been. The 21 gears are really awesome to use.  The thick 26″ wheels and long wheelbase make the bike draggy, but are essential for carrying sturdy loads.

Handling in general is superb for a cargo bike.  The Yuba rides like a regular bike – granted not like the best bike in the world, but like a smooth and sturdy hybrid.  I got used to the feel of the bike after a couple of minutes and after that could have forgotten that I was riding a strange bike, if it weren’t for all the stares I got from pedestrians.  I’m sure a heavy load would affect that to some degree, but the quality of the ride unloaded is a good sign.

The Yuba Mundo really stands out for its ability to haul massive loads, while functioning like a regular bike when all you want is a regular bike.  If you want to haul stuff on your bike but find the idea of a bakfiets-type bike cumbersome and/or too pricey, the Yuba is definitely worth checking out. Priced at $1095 for the set-up I rode, it’s a relative bargain.

My test ride review can only scratch the surface of this bike, so I encourage you to try it out in real life, if possible (available at J.C. Lind for Chicagoans) and check out Steven Can Plan to hear from an owner. In particular, check out his “Rules for Yubering” and impressive all-Yuba Flickr set.

I know there are quite a few of you out there who ride a Yuba or the similar Surly Long Haul Trucker Big Dummy, so I’d love to hear from all of you about your experiences, especially with carrying substantial loads.

Questions? Leave them in the comments. I may not be able to answer them all, but hopefully someone with more intimate Yuba experience could jump in.

{J.C. Lind Bikes is a sponsor of LGRAB. That’s not why I decided to test this bike, but I should point out that relationship.}

{Also, tying this back to yesterday’s post, I took these photos using the film SLR camera I bought for $25, I’m wearing the wool-silk skirt I bought for $2, and I’m displaying my Irish pride for St. Paddy’s day.}


Racing, Thrifting and Cargoing

Today was absolutely gorgeous – sunny and 60 degrees! I biked without gloves and earmuffs for the first time since October. Yes!

During lunch I went to the Salvation Army with a friend from work. I wanted to enjoy the gorgeous weather, so I told her I’d bike and meet her there. We did a little “on your mark, get set, go” when leaving the building. My bike was right outside, while her car was parked in the lot a block away. I left her in the dust until, a mere block from the destination, she passed me tooting her horn. BUT she still had to park, pay the meter machine and put a ticket stub on her dash. By the time she got to the entrance, I was waiting impatiently.

Somehow she beat me on the way back to the office, but just barely. And she didn’t get to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. :)

Betty being cocky

I scored big at the thrift store, buying a manual 35 mm camera in great shape, two dresses and a skirt. Finding beautiful clothes for only $2 is such a thrill. I have very little interest in shopping at real clothing stores now.

My favorite thrift store

On my way home, I was in such a good mood and the weather was so beautiful, it seemed a shame to ride straight home. Instead, I stopped in J.C. Lind Bikes, which I pass by every day, to chat with the owner Jon. I left about an hour later with a Yuba instead of Betty – only for an overnight test ride!

Me and the Yuba

I love riding unusual bikes around town, always fun. I’ll write a full test ride review after I try it out more tomorrow. Plus, the story of a certain awesome cycling family I ran into on my way home!

Is Bicycling Political?

Old photo chosen for the red, white and blue

WBEZ asks this question and Julie Hochstadter answers.  For those of you who are not from Chicago, brief introductions: WBEZ is my beloved Chicago Public Radio, Julie is co-owner of The Chainlink and all-around awesome woman.

Julie’s take on the question: basically, bicycling is a political statement even if you don’t intend it to be because you’re doing something out of the norm.  Also, you’re saving the world.  ;)  But bicycling is also fun, practical, safe and fast.

I cannot embed the story, so read and listen here. The audio is only 3 minutes long.

What do you think: is bicycling political?

Valentines Via Velo

Someone asked me last week if I had any bikey Valentine’s Day plans with Mr. Dottie. I answered, “No, we’re just going to dinner at our favorite French restaurant, Bistrot Margot.”

Then I thought for a second and amended that answer with, “Well, of course, we’ll be riding our bikes there.”

Bicycling is such an ingrained part of our lives – it’s always there somewhere. But unlike driving or taking public transit, biking is not simply another mundane transportation option. It’s fun and adds something special to every occasion!

For this reason, I would say that our little French dinner was a bikey Valentine’s Day, with bicycling being the perfect aperitif (to stimulate the appetite) and digestif (to aid in digestion).

Of course, fancy truffles and flowers are always welcome, too. :)

But above all – bike love!

P.S. February 14 is long gone and so are all those truffles!

Bicycling on the Coldest Day

After whining about winter on Monday, I left my bike at home and took the L train to work two days in a row. That sounds ridiculous in hindsight – two days in a row – but I really needed a short break from winter biking. The trick to enjoying life on two wheels is not to make bicycling feel like an obligation. As such, on the rare occasions when I feel burned out, I back off. By this morning, I was champing at the bit to get back in the saddle (uh, too many mixed horse metaphors?).

Sure, the temperature was the lowest of the year at -6F with -25 wind chills, but after conquering arctic air three weeks ago, I’m no longer intimidated.

Seriously, I simply threw on an extra layer of wool, wrapped a scarf around my face, tucked warming packs in my boots and mittens, and the ride was perfectly fine.  Full outfit: tweed skirt, wool leggings, blouse, wool sweater, puffy down vest, wool socks, snow boots, hat, scarf, mittens, sunglasses. The biggest difference between today and any other Chicago winter day is that my sinuses got really dry.

The feeling of being back on my bike was exhilarating. I felt like myself again. You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder? That is certainly the case with me and my bikes, especially when the alternative is a slow and crowded L train (though that’s still way better than driving).

One weird thing about the ride was that my bike felt exaggeratedly slow and heavy, the pedaling like churning rich butter.  By the time I arrived at work, my body was more fatigued than usual.  Talking with Mr. Dottie later, I learned that he had the same experience this morning on his vintage Raleigh.

Does anyone know what would cause this?  I have a few different theories: the arctic wind (doubtful because I’ve experienced stronger – but not as cold – Chicago wind without the same affect); the extreme cold did something weird with our bodies; the extreme cold did something weird with our cranks/gear hubs.  Thoughts?

Car-free Shopping Strategies

This weekend I made another bulk product shopping trip by bike.  There’s no real game plan, every pannier in the closet gets thrown on Oma and Sir Raleigh, who make a rag-tag cargo team.  In the photos below, there is quite a bit of stuff smushed onto the bikes.

At the Dottie household, we have a good system for taking care of all our purchases without a car, while staying within a budget and valuing local, organic and natural products.

  1. Most of the food we eat comes from area farms, delivered by a CSA, Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks.
  2. A lot comes from Whole Foods natural grocery, which is a very short walk.
  3. The heavier and pricier purchases, like cat food for our three kitties, come from Amazon via the mail.
  4. Most of our clothes come from neighborhood thrifts shops and those are fun trips!
  5. Finally, occasional bike trips to the bulk product store take care of miscellaneous stuff like fancy olives, liquor and beer.  (Fun fact: while visiting local brewery Two Brothers, they told me that the bulk store is their biggest customer.)  Whether luckily or unluckily, the bulk store is on the edge of my neighborhood, a quick ride.

This system works well for us.  What is your system for shopping without a motor vehicle?

(A previous discussion specific to grocery shopping by bike can be read here.)

A Very Friendly Bike Commute

Hi there!  We are back and ready for 2011.  :)

My first bike commute of the new year was pretty much perfect.  First, during my absence, all the snow miraculously melted in Chicago.  The temperature has since dropped down to well below freezing, but the roads remain clear and dry.  I celebrated the rare occasion by riding studded-tire-less Betty Foy for the first time in a month.  Vroom-vroom!

Half way to work, I pulled over to change the album on my iPod and blow on my numb fingertips, when Maria of Po Campo rode up next to me on her beautiful Soma mixte.  Our paths soon diverged, but not before I got a picture!

A couple of miles later, Jami of Balloon Biker pulled up next to me in the bike lane and we rode together and chatted the rest of the way in.

Lovely!  Note the skirts, tights and boots that both Maria and Jami are sporting.  That’s how Chicago women do it on a bike in the winter!

Unexpectedly meeting up with two bike friends really brightened my morning.  As a bonus to my already awesome morning, between seeing Maria and Jami, I passed a woman going the other direction who was riding a Dutch bike with flowing hair, carrying a baby on the front and a toddler on the back.  It was so beautiful, I could have wept.  She must be Dutch or something, although I would love to be wrong.  Anyone know a regular Chicago mom who throws down like that?  I was tempted to turn around and catch up with her to snap a picture, but figured that would be weird.  Instead, I offer this supermum representation from Copenhagen Cycle Chic:

Women on bikes are taking over – watch out, Chicago.

Happy new year!

Really!?!

Sometimes drivers completely baffle me. Case in point from this morning’s commute…

Asshole? Really!?!

I stopped behind three cars waiting for a red light. When the light turned green, we each went through in turn, me last. Meanwhile, a driver from the other direction was waiting to turn left. After I passed and as he turned, he called out, “Asshole,” through an open window.

Really!?! Huh? I looked around either for commiseration or to see if there was someone else he could have been talking to. I was alone out there. So I continued to repeat in my head, “Really!?!” in a Seth & Amy SNL voice the rest of the way to work.

Baffling. Not only did I do absolutely nothing wrong, but I am obviously a woman, in a skirt with long hair and a pink helmet. Since when do men go around calling women assholes? Really!?!

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*Photo from last year, but setting and outfit very similar to today’s.

Women in Motion

Streetsfilms created this wonderful short film, Women in Motion: New Lady Riders Reflect on NYC Cycling. The film highlights women who started riding their bikes only recently, inspired by the new infrastructure and growing number of other everyday cyclists.

Meanwhile, Steven Can Plan highlights numbers showing that the frequency of Chicago women riding their bikes to work is down this year.

Trisha and I have been bicycling for 2.5 years now. I suppose we’re slowly but surely becoming members of the old guard, but our message remains the same: anyone can start bicycling for transportation right now, even if they have never done it before. And the goal of sharing our experiences is to encourage more women to start and continue to ride bikes.

We bloggers can’t do this alone. As the news above from NYC and Chicago shows, safe bicycle infrastructure is a major factor in whether people will ride their bikes. If you agree, make sure to contact your government representatives and let them know how important bicycle infrastructure is to you!

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